Board meetings can be an intimidating environment for the novice or poorly prepared but, if managed well, they can provide the CTO with a great opportunity to provide updates, generate ideas and get the backing and input from other key people in the company.
What they’re not, is the place to discuss day to day operational matters.
What they should be, is a lively and open forum to review strategic issues affecting performance, growth, revenue and profit.
We’ve seen board meetings handled in many different ways, so here are a few tips to help the new and/or aspiring CTO effectively manage those board meetings;
- Board report: In advance of the meeting, create a 1 (maximum 2 pages) report breaking it down into 1) what has been done and was it on target, 2) what will be done along with any changes to original plan, 3) raising any issues, 4) notifications/actions that require board notice/approval. A couple of graphs, some strong visuals, always help, especially if you’re dealing with non-techie board members!
- Plan: Boards like good news so, if you can, plan a release to happen just before a board meeting! This might sound flippant but if a release is due two days after a monthly board meeting then the board conversations become hypothetical – “when the release happens, marketing will…”, “when the release happens, sales will …”, “the figures are provisional until the new version is released” – the pressure is on tech throughout the whole meeting.
- Chat with other board members: Members of the board will have different experiences, backgrounds and personalities. Spend time with them individually outside of the board meeting, understanding their needs and desires for the business to confirm that you are aligned with them and correct any misunderstandings. It’s particularly important if you’re involved with a board that is fractious, even toxic. You need to understand the hawks and the doves, manage the key players and important messages beforehand
- Read other documents: Read all the reports sent to you before a board meeting and set some definitive time aside to do it. There is nothing worse for any member of the board, than watching someone read your report at a meeting, knowing it’s the first time they’ve looked at it.
- Know when to speak: Board meetings need to move at a reasonable pace and therefore non-contentious topics should be dealt with quickly, to leave more time to discuss the more pressing issues. However, there are times when groupthink kicks in and you need to raise your voice. It may be an area where you have no expertise but the outcome or explanation does not make any sense. Recent examples we’ve encountered included “the board making an assumption the next raise will happen in Summer, when that is never a good time to raise funds”.
- Know when not to speak: Many people like the sound of their own voices, but being concise and accurate with your language and not getting dragged into minor operational discussions will earn the respect of the board and save time!
- Hold your ground: If you know your tech then hold your ground with the board, particularly where it concerns security, data management and reliability. If something goes wrong, the buck stops with you so make sure that the board understands these priorities and don’t assume nodding means understanding …. important to be sure that those doing the nodding, really do understand.
- Concise Communication. Particularly important if your board includes non-technical individuals that you communicate what might be complex propositions in language that everyone can understand. If you’ve prepared well and been able to speak to key people in advance then this minimises the risk of any misunderstandings at the meeting itself.
- Avoid Nodding Dog Syndrome. There is also the risk at a senior level that if board members haven’t understood clearly what you’ve said, they might not admit to it at the time. You will be amazed (or maybe not) how uncomfortable some senior people are in a public forum, admitting they don’t know something, particularly if they think they should or get the sense that everyone else does.
Board meetings can be awkward and demanding but, they serve a business critical role. Each company runs them slightly differently, but understanding their purpose and being prepared, should make them less intimidating places.
We cover this area of the CTO role elsewhere within CTO Acasdemy – visit www.cto.academy